Our Top 10: The Expert’s List of Project Management Methodologies
Defining and implementing a project management methodology is a key stepping stone to success for any project. While dozens of different approaches have been created, with many of them overlapping and intertwining, there is always an optimum methodology suited to your business, and the type of projects you’re running. We’ve created this list of project management methodologies so that you can quickly build your understanding, before implementing the one which best suits your needs.
Even within one company, there could be various different methodologies in place, depending on the specific project environment. Use this article to learn how to pick the best project management methodology for success.
- Agile – requirements and solutions evolve through iterative development and collaboration between self-organising, cross-functional teams
- Kanban – focuses on continuous delivery and high efficiency, by limiting how much work can be done at once
- Scrum – emphasises productivity by organising work into small, manageable pieces that can be completed within a given time period
- Extreme Programming – engineering solutions take place to ensure the quality of delivered software
- Lean – applies a systematic approach for waste minimisation within product development, without sacrificing productivity
- Six Sigma – improves business processes by greatly reducing the probability of a system failure
- Waterfall – facilitates planning by applying a logical progression of steps taken throughout the software development life cycle
- Critical Path Method – prevents timeframe problems and bottlenecks by identifying critical and noncritical tasks
- Critical Chain Project Management – emphasises the resources required to execute project tasks to improve schedule, cost, and scope performance
- PRINCE2 – a process-based method that comprises four integrated elements for effective project management
What Is It?
Agile is a set of principles designed for developing software. Rather than building out every step of the project at the outset, the development process is divided into short cycles. This enables the team to adapt to quickly changing situations.
Agile project management is best used in dynamic environments where there’s potential for constantly changing requirements. It suits businesses which require flexibility and seek to quickly and consistently provide product updates and new trends to their customers.
- PROS – Allows teams to be flexible and responsive to changes. With instant feedback from stakeholders at every step, Agile project management drastically reduces the risk of project failure. By working in short development cycles, teams find that their effectiveness and productivity, as well as customer satisfaction, all increase.
- CONS – Agile is an energy intensive methodology. It requires all stakeholders to work closely together on a daily basis.
Who Should be Using Agile?
Agile methodology is most effective in dynamic environments where there’s a potential for constantly changing requirements. It suits businesses which must respond quickly and consistently to emerging trends, providing regular updates to their customers.
What Is It?
The Kanban Method is an approach designed to improve workflow efficiency introducing a pull system and limiting work in progress (WIP). It is light, flexible, it doesn’t have predefined roles, and tries to improve throughput by increasing the focus of the team on high priority tasks.
All Kanban work is displayed on a board. These can be physical (made from stickies) or online Kanban boards, and group individual tasks into categories. Every category defines the current state of a task, and categories can include:
- “To do”
- “In progress”
- “Under review”
Project managers use Kanban boards to assess a team’s workload. Kanban boards visualise how additional tasks will affect current work in progress, and therefore re-prioritise, preventing tasks from stalling. Teams pull work into the process when they have capacity to do so preventing burnout. By measuring the average time to complete assignments and resolve impediments as they occur, project workflow is continuously optimised and improved.
- PROS – By limiting work in progress, Kanban teams can improve the quality and speed of delivery. In addition, the Kanban Method increases flexibility by re-evaluating priorities as new assignments come in.
- CONS – Since work is committed to be delivered “as soon as possible”, it suggests regular feedback and a highly intensive collaboration environment.
Who Should be Using Kanban?
Since Kanban is designed for projects in which work is being continuously released, it is suited to any project where priorities can change rapidly.
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What Is It?
Scrum is one of the most popular Agile development frameworks, and is designed to deliver functionality that meets client expectations efficiently. This helps teams stay motivated, enhancing both productivity and customer satisfaction.
All work is split into 2-4 week sprints during which daily standup meetings take place – this is where the team reports on the progress made, anticipated work and any impediments preventing the team from achieving its potential velocity. At the end of each sprint, the team demonstrates the latest functionality in a Sprint Review meeting, before receiving feedback to adapt the product backlog.
Rather than having a project manager, it’s the Scrum Master who resolves conflicts, ensures communication is always open, and leads the team towards producing their highest quality work. The Scrum Master reviews each sprint to ensure the team is always improving. Every Scrum team also has a Product Owner, who represents the key stakeholders and helps the team to understand the overall product vision.
- PROS – Scrum puts emphasis on productivity, improving communication and team collaboration. Teams can make rapid developments during sprints, reacting quickly to changes and consistently producing high-quality results.
- CONS – Given its inherent flexibility, Scrum is poorly suited to teams with fixed budgets, timelines and scope.
Who Should be Using Scrum?
Scrum is best suited to highly experienced, cross-functional teams who can set their own priorities and clearly understand project requirements.
What Is It?
Like all Agile approaches, Extreme Programming focuses on teamwork and customer satisfaction. It features five basic tenets:
It uses very short sprint cycles to promote highly focused work on specific tasks. Unlike Scrum, which also enjoys huge flexibility, Extreme Programming tasks are laid out in a very specific order with strict priority. It implements engineering practices such as pair programming, refactoring, test-driven development, automated testing, and continuous integration.
On our whole list of project management approaches, Extreme Programming is probably the most specialised.
- PROS – When implemented with a focus on close collaboration and efficiency, Extreme Programming can lead to exceptionally high-quality end product.
- CONS – Extreme Programming depends on the highly talented individuals within the team more than the process itself, and maintaining the perfect team can be tricky.
Who Should be Using Extreme Programming?
Extreme Programming offers teams the ability to absorb constant scope changes while still moving forward towards project completion. It is suitable for projects where the plan, budget, and even the final deliverable may be altered to suit changing requirements.
Experts recommend that teams transition gradually from Scrum to Extreme Programming, determining their own best practises as they go.
What Is It?
The principle of the Lean methodology is to increase value to the customer while minimising all possible waste. Lean project delivery means optimising workflows, reducing overheads and tackling inefficiencies.
It is about changing the way we operate to stay focused on delivering value. Lean works by driving self-accountability within the team, streamlining workflows and using data to standardise work processes.
- PROS – Lean reduces waste, which in turn increases profits. Optimised productivity leads to higher job satisfaction, and happier clients.
- CONS – Lean does not offer an immediate fix to any problem. Instead, it brings long-term results which are only effective with cooperation from every single team member – something that’s easier said than done!
Who Should be Using Lean?
Since it is all about increasing productivity and optimising workflows, Lean can be helpful for projects which experience difficulties with project development and release process flows.
What Is It?
Six Sigma is a close relation of the Lean project management methodology, with its focus firmly on efficiency and process improvement. Its name refers to the desired “Six Sigma” rating which means a product is 99.99966% free of errors.
This is a highly structured methodology which is completely data-driven: analyse the past, improve the future. Six Sigma is generally used to increase production efficiency and optimise repetitive processes. It is often considered to be more like quality control than a traditional project management methodology, but there’s no denying it yields results.
- PROS – There is total emphasis on meeting goals and improving the bottom line. It is a logical, systematic approach to optimising processes, and proper implementation will return results.
- CONS – Six Sigma offers very little flexibility since it is heavily data-driven. This rigidity can create delays and stifle creativity.
Who Should be Using Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is best-suited to projects with poor business or development process flows.
What Is It?
Waterfall is a simple project management methodology which values solid, thorough planning. Contrary to the Agile approach of iterative, incremental delivery, Waterfall teams create a clear, comprehensive plan for the whole project prior to execution.
Teams will reach 100% of one stage before proceeding to the next. The goal of Waterfall is to eliminate risk through strategic planning, and it can be highly effective.
- PROS – Since all tasks follow a sequential order, Waterfall is easier to implement and manage than many rival methodologies. It can also provide more reliable predictions for budget, timelines and project scope.
- CONS – It is less flexible than other methods, since the main stages of the project are decided at the outset. Adapting your plans further through the process can be challenging.
Who Should be Using Waterfall?
Waterfall is a useful and predictable approach for any project with fixed, precise and well-documented requirements. It is the most planning-intensive strategy on our list of project management methodologies.
What Is It?
The Critical Path Method (CPM) was established for projects with tasks which must be completed ahead of others.
The role of CPM managers is to create connected, sequential strings of tasks – these form the critical path which must be followed for successful completion of the project. The idea is to focus resources at the areas of highest priority by explicitly specifying task dependencies, thereby avoiding bottlenecks and reducing delays throughout the project.
Teams implement CPM by categorising projects within a work breakdown structure. Then, the projected durations of each activity – and the interdependencies of these activities – are all mapped out.
- PROS – CPM is ideal for complex projects, with team members whose skills and tasks overlap. By mapping the duration of all activities and their interdependencies, task scheduling becomes very efficient.
- CONS – The Critical Path method is not well-suited to small projects with narrow skillsets or fast turnaround times. In addition, proper implementation means a lack of flexibility compared to other methodologies.
Who Should be Using Critical Path?
CPM is best applied to projects where there is considerable overlap and interdependence between assignments. It fits well with projects where there is a premeditated order in which tasks must be completed.
What Is It?
The Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) methodology is an extension of CPM. Rather than prioritising tasks, it is used to control the delivery and acquisition of specific resources. Like CPM, the goal is to prevent bottlenecks and delays throughout the project.
The critical chain is the link of key tasks throughout the project, and managers will always apply time buffers around these tasks to reduce the risk of expensive bottlenecks and resource reallocation.
- PROS – CCPM allows managers to build in “safety buffers” for the most time-crucial tasks, reducing the likelihood of delays and maximising client satisfaction.
- CONS – By creating buffers around crucial tasks, some team members might overestimate their own efficiency – it’s a fine and difficult balance.
Who Should be Using Critical Chain?
Much like CPM, the Critical Chain Method is best applied in fields where there is considerable overlap of resources. It requires open communication channels at all times, and plenty of advanced planning at the early stages.
What Is It?
PRINCE2 is a project management methodology which puts heavy emphasis on the organisation and control of the entire project, including the individual responsibilities within it. It is widely recognised as a set of best practises for successful project delivery. A holistic method, it can be used to teach the fundamentals of project management to teams of any size.
PRINCE2 ensures every project will contribute value. Planning begins with identifying a need, then targeting specific customers, setting out realistic benefits and performing an accurate cost assessment.
In the UK government, PRINCE2 is the de facto methodology for managing all projects, and being a PRINCE2 manager requires full accreditation.
- PROS – Thanks to its extensive documentation, PRINCE2 brings greater resource control, improved risk management and consistent, organised planning and execution.
- CONS – It is not a flexible methodology, making it difficult to accommodate changes. The documentation will require editing, and resources may be reallocated.
Who Should be Using PRINCE2?
PRINCE2 is an excellent framework for how to run large, predictable projects, and is best employed for projects in controlled environments.
Selecting the Best Project Management Methodology
Our comprehensive list of project management methodologies should have given you a great idea of what options are out there. That said, there is no right or wrong methodology we can recommend – it all comes down to your team, the type of your projects, and your expectations.
If you’re looking for a starting point, then go through our list once again. Focus on the “Who Should be Using this Methodology?” sections and eliminate those which don’t apply.
From there, you can discuss the details with your team, perform more research and then, once you’ve narrowed your choices down, pick one. You shouldn’t rush to choose your project management methodology, but eventually you just have to go with your gut.
Have you implemented any of these methodologies? How did they change your business? Let us know in the comments below, as we’d love to hear from you!
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams become more efficient through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.
A Big Thank You from Nave!
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